by Angella Issajenko
The Game Planners:
Transforming Canada's Sport System
by Donald Macintosh, David Whitson,
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|Life On The Run
by George Kaufman
THE DOWNFALL OF Ben Johnson was a sad, almost tragic, event, but it did have a saving grace: it opened many people`s eyes to the gritty reality of the international track and field world. Without the shocking drama at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, we wouldn`t have had an important book like Running Risks, an unflinching took into a fascinating world.
Angella Issajenko, though an international sprint star in her own right, remained -- as did all of Canada`s fine track athletes -- in Johnson`s shadow once he donned the macho "fastest man on earth" mantle. With Running Risks, she steps boldly into the light -- a light she clearly enjoys.
Fans, who knew her only through the press, saw her mainly as a moody, mercurial egoist who feuded with her Canadian sprint rival Angela Bailey -- "the other Angel(I)a." This book reveals her to be all that, but also much more. More important than that, it gives its an authoritative, unblinkered, inside glimpse of the monster that`s been created by modern big-time track interests. Issajenko graphically confirms what we`ve known for some time: that track and field is a cold- hearted, lucrative big business still trying to operate, at least for public-relations purposes, by the rules of the long-gone "gentlemen athletes" who were the last true amateurs. I She chronicles the appearance money, the equipment deals, incentives for record performances, corporate sponsorships and endorsements. Alongside all these tempting inducements to do their best at any cost, Issajenko adds the pitifully inadequate payments from government agencies that were supposed to tide the athletes over while they remained pure and trained hard for the glory of their country.
It was this false image of purity, which Johnson tried to maintain even after he was caught, that finally put Issajenko into the rage that propelled her to spill the real story to a newspaper reporter -an act that led to the Dubin Inquiry and is still having repercussions today.
She makes it clear that she thinks Johnson had gone out of control, manipulating as much as being manipulated.
After the debacle in Seoul, Ben kept being portrayed as naive, even retarded, but the fact was that when he was at his peak he virtually ran the ... team himself At airports around the world, he came to expect flights would be held for him, as if he were Mick Jagger. just before Seoul, he had closed another promotion deal for himself, this one worth $250,000, when Charlie suggested a portion of the earnings at one of our races, $300 each, should go to junior members of the team. Ben`s negotiating position was, "Fuck me."
Though some of Issajenko`s comments carry the scent of sour grapes, she is often equally critical of her own thoughts and actions. With the "as told to Martin O`Malley and Karen O`Reilly" tacked onto the writing credits, it`s hard to distinguish between Issajenko`s own voice and the enhanced one, but by the end of the book the essence of this remarkable woman has come through. We get to know the vain, self-centred woman who is always conscious of what shes wearing, as well as the surprisingly reflective woman who offers many articulate, insightful observations on the track world, and the world in general. Despite the inevitable kiss-and-tell elements, Running Risks conducts readers on a genuine warts-and-all inside tour of the international track experience. Issajenko`s anecdotes and observations are sometimes self-serving, often exasperating, but nearly always compelling reading.
She succeeds in her stated aim to "stop the lying" and lay bare the hypocrisy of amateur sport. She paints Canadians as global patsies -- first stumbling along a tortuous, hit-and-miss path through the world of performance-enhancing drugs, long after others had blazed the trail, and then being the ones to get caught in a big way. As for the national self flagellation of the Dubin hearings, she bitterly poses the rhetorical question: can anyone imagine the Americans or Soviets going through that over one track star failing one drug test?
Thanks to her meticulous diary, she follows the trail from her first steroid injection in a Toronto doctor`s office to her increasingly complex experiments with coke, speed, and practically every imaginable combination of steroids, growth hormones, and other drugs.
She finds it hard to believe that track fans are naive enough to be surprised by this. She and the other Canadian athletes were doing it, she says, because of their conviction that they had been practically the only world-class athletes not doing it. She makes no apologies, and is unabashedly cynical about the "drug issue" and the two-faced response of track and government officials who scrambled to cover their rears when the "scandal" hit the headlines:
I don`t suppose I`ll ever be an attraction on the lecture circuit. People want to hear guys like Ben Johnson and Mark McKoy get up there and say things like, "I`m sorry I did drugs. I never should have done what I did."
Well, if you`re so sorry, guys, why don`t you find a suitable charity and give it all the money you earned? Because the only way these guys achieved what they did was through ... drugs. And if they had it to do over again, And they could get away with it, I`m sure they`d do it. I`d be doing it, too.
It`s hard to imagine a more authentic, trenchant background examination of the dramatic whirlwind of issues and personalities around the "Ben Johnson affair."
Anyone looking for a more comprehensive overview of the Byzantine group of umbrella organizations that "run" amateur sports in Canada can wade into The Game Planners: Transforming Canada`s
Sport System. It is just about as far as YOU can get from Issajenko`s book and still be on the same subject; it is authoritative, well researched, cold-bloodedly analytical, earnestly sincere -- and, unfortunately, very hard slogging for any reader nor accustomed to a steady diet of academese.
Most readers will find these scholarly studies, charts, and tables hard to decipher. But there are some genuinely interesting and illuminating insights to be gleaned from this effort, if you skip the first nine chapters and get right into the helpful 18-page "Summing Up" at the end.
The Game Planners will serve as a handy reference work for anyone making a serious hobby of following the Dubin Inquiry and its fallout.